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Front Neurorobot. 2013 Feb 18;7:2. doi: 10.3389/fnbot.2013.00002. eCollection 2013.

The hierarchical and functional connectivity of higher-order cognitive mechanisms: neurorobotic model to investigate the stability and flexibility of working memory.

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  • 1RIKEN Brain Science Institute Wako, Saitama, Japan.


Higher-order cognitive mechanisms (HOCM), such as planning, cognitive branching, switching, etc., are known to be the outcomes of a unique neural organizations and dynamics between various regions of the frontal lobe. Although some recent anatomical and neuroimaging studies have shed light on the architecture underlying the formation of such mechanisms, the neural dynamics and the pathways in and between the frontal lobe to form and/or to tune the stability level of its working memory remain controversial. A model to clarify this aspect is therefore required. In this study, we propose a simple neurocomputational model that suggests the basic concept of how HOCM, including the cognitive branching and switching in particular, may mechanistically emerge from time-based neural interactions. The proposed model is constructed such that its functional and structural hierarchy mimics, to a certain degree, the biological hierarchy that is believed to exist between local regions in the frontal lobe. Thus, the hierarchy is attained not only by the force of the layout architecture of the neural connections but also through distinct types of neurons, each with different time properties. To validate the model, cognitive branching and switching tasks were simulated in a physical humanoid robot driven by the model. Results reveal that separation between the lower and the higher-level neurons in such a model is an essential factor to form an appropriate working memory to handle cognitive branching and switching. The analyses of the obtained result also illustrates that the breadth of this separation is important to determine the characteristics of the resulting memory, either static memory or dynamic memory. This work can be considered as a joint research between synthetic and empirical studies, which can open an alternative research area for better understanding of brain mechanisms.


brain modeling; cognitive branching task; frontal lobe function; higher-order cognitive tasks; multi-timescale recurrent neural network; working memory

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